Frank Wedekind

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Frank Wedekind
Frank Wedekind
in 1883
Born Benjamin Franklin Wedekind
(1864-07-24)July 24, 1864
Hanover, German Confederation
Died March 9, 1918(1918-03-09) (aged 53)
Munich, German Empire
Nationality German
Occupation playwright

Benjamin Franklin Wedekind (July 24, 1864 – March 9, 1918), usually known as Frank Wedekind, was a German playwright. His work, which often criticizes bourgeois attitudes (particularly towards sex), is considered to anticipate expressionism, and he was a major influence on the development of epic theatre.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Wedekind was born on July 24, 1864 and lived most of his adult life in Munich, though he had a brief period working in advertising, for the Maggi soup firm, in Switzerland in 1886.[2] He had an affair with Frida Uhl who bore him a child.[3] Having initially worked in business and the circus, Wedekind went on to become an actor and singer. In this capacity he received wide acclaim as the principal star of the satirical cabaret Die elf Scharfrichter (The Eleven Executioners), launched in 1901.[4] It was thanks to Wedekind's success that the tradition of German satirical writing was established in the theatre, producing the cabaret-song satirists Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, Joachim Ringelnatz and Erich Kästner among others, who invigorated the culture of the Weimar Republic; "all bitter social critics who used direct, stinging satire as the best means of attack and wrote a large part of their always intelligible light verse to be declaimed or sung."[5] At the age of 34, after serving a nine-month prison sentence for "lèse-majesté" (thanks to the publication in Simplicissimus of some of his satirical poems), Wedekind became a dramaturg (a play-reader and adapter) at the Munich Schauspielhaus.[6]


Wedekind's first major play, Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening, 1891), which concerns sexuality and puberty among some young German students, caused a scandal, as it contained scenes of homoeroticism, implied group male masturbation, actual male masturbation, sado-masochism between a teenage boy and girl, rape, and suicide, as well as references to abortion. In 2006, it was adapted into a successful Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.

The "Lulu" plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904) are probably his best known works. Originally conceived as a single play, the two pieces tell a continuous story of a sexually-enticing young dancer who rises in German society through her relationships with wealthy men, but who later falls into poverty and prostitution.[7] The frank depiction of sexuality and violence in these plays, including lesbianism and an encounter with Jack the Ripper (a role which Wedekind played himself in the original production),[8] pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on the stage at the time. Karl Kraus helped Wedekind to also stage in Vienna.[9]

The "Lulu" plays formed the basis for G W Pabst's acclaimed silent film Pandora's Box (1929), starring Louise Brooks as Lulu, and Alban Berg's incomplete opera Lulu (1937), which is considered to be one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century opera. (Berg's opera Lulu was ultimately completed by composer Friedrich Cerha, based on Berg's nearly completed manuscripts released long after the composer's 1935 death. A full three act version was first performed in Paris in 1979 under the musical direction of Pierre Boulez).[10] Currently the plays are being adapted into comics by John Linton Roberson.[11] They also form the basis for the 2011 album Lulu, a collaboration between the rock musician Lou Reed and the heavy metal band Metallica.[12]

Der Kammersänger (The Court-Singer, 1899) is a one-act character study of a famous opera singer who receives a series of unwelcome guests at his hotel suite. An opera in English, under the title "The Tenor" was written by composer Hugo Weisgall. In Franziska (1910), the title character, a young girl, initiates a Faustian pact with the Devil, selling her soul for the knowledge of what it is like to live life as a man (reasoning that men seem to have all the advantages). Wedekind's symbolist novella Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls (1903) was the basis for the film Innocence (2004) by Lucile Hadžihalilović and The Fine Art of Love (2005) by John Irvin.

A number of Wedekind's works were translated into English by Samuel Atkins Eliot, Jr.

Wedekind in later life

List of major works[edit]



  1. ^ See Banham (1998) and Willett (1959). In his Messingkauf Dialogues, Brecht cites Wedekind, along with Büchner and Valentin, as his "chief influences" in his early years: "he", Brecht writes of himself in the third person, "also saw the writer Wedekind performing his own works in a style which he had developed in cabaret. Wedekind had worked as a ballad singer; he accompanied himself on the lute." (1965, 69).
  2. ^ Willett (1959, 98n).
  3. ^ Meyer, Michael. Strindberg: A Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, p.363.
  4. ^ See Banham (1998) and Willett (1959, 87)
  5. ^ Willett (1959, 87).
  6. ^ Willett (1959, 87, 106).
  7. ^ Mueller, Carl R. "Introduction" toFrank Wedekind: Four Major Plays, Vol 1, Lyme, New Hampshire: Smith and Krauss, 2000
  8. ^ Willett (1959, 73n).
  9. ^ Bru, Sascha and Martens, Gunther (2006) The invention of politics in the European avant-garde (1906-1940) pp.52-3
  10. ^ Harewood, Earl of. The Definitive Kobbe's Opera Book, New York: Putnam, 1987. p.875
  11. ^ Roberson, John Linton. "Lulu"
  12. ^ Lou Reed & Metallica - Lulu


  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. "Wedekind, Frank." In The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8. p. 1189-1190.
  • Boa, Elizabeth. 1987. The Sexual Circus: Wedekind's Theatre of Subversion. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-14234-7.
  • Brecht, Bertolt. 1965. The Messingkauf Dialogues. Trans. John Willett. Bertolt Brecht: Plays, Poetry, Prose Ser. London: Methuen, 1985. ISBN 0-413-38890-5.
  • Mueller, Carl R. 2000. Introduction to Frank Wedekind: Four Major Plays, Vol 1. Lyme, New Hampshire: Smith and Kraus.
  • Willett, John. 1967. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Third rev. ed. London: Methuen, 1977. ISBN 0-413-34360-X.

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